Fancy a listen? Click for the Tomb Raider soundtrack or composer Nathan McCree’s Soundcloud

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I’ve waited two decades to hear the original Tomb Raider score played by an orchestra. Imagine my disappointment when it didn’t feature on the Anniversary remake (a game I still loved but nobody bought) or when the soundtrack to the 2001 movie adaptation consisted of Bono shouting about a mole living in a hole. Did Tomb Raider: Live in concert deliver on twenty years’ worth of high hopes? Yes – it was everything I’d dreamed, and more.

 

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Nathan McCree

The soundtrack to 1996’s Tomb Raider is nothing short of a masterpiece. Composed by Nathan McCree, the score is evocative of forgotten worlds and the journey of an intrepid explorer as she gazes upon the lost landscapes. Hearing it immediately whisks us away to the Peruvian mountains, Greek temples and Egyptian tombs. The elegance and beauty of the main theme perfectly embodies our heroine Lara Croft as she uncovers the mysteries of the ancients. The score also comes loaded with moments of heart-pounding terror as Lara narrowly escapes the jaws of death. Remember looking down from St Francis’ Folly, leaping over spike traps and running from the T-Rex? Of course you do!

 

Let’s not forget the second and third instalments in the Tomb Raider series, which were also composed by McCree. These games took Lara across the globe to exotic new locations, so naturally her adventures needed the soundtracks to match. Some stand-out musical moments included the skidoo chase across the Tibetan foothills, the sitar-infused trek through the jungles of India and the Vivaldi-esque Venice theme – perfect for crashing through gondolas while riding a speedboat. Presented together as the ‘Tomb Raider Suite’, McCree’s work is ambitious in scope with many clever variations of its own classic themes.

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Shelley Blond

At the Eventim Appollo Hammersmith, I finally got to hear my favourite game music played live by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and conducted by Robert Zeigler while images and footage were displayed on a giant screen. But the event had more than a few surprises in store. Our host was none other than Shelley Blond, the original voice actress of Lara Croft. As well as hearing the official world premiere of the ‘Tomb Raider Suite’, we were also treated to a brand new Nathan McCree composition inspired by the original Tomb Raider trilogy titled ‘In The Blood’. The concert also featured Nathan himself discussing his work onstage, a compilation of clips from Geeketiquette’s thoroughly entertaining Tomb Raider playthrough and a familiar old butler who tottered on at the end of the first half. Presumably someone had to lock him back in the freezer before the show could continue.

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It’s okay – we all did this at some point!

 

Tomb Raider raised the bar not just in game mechanics but aesthetics, which the music was a huge part of. Those unforgettable first four notes have been forever etched into the hearts of gamers worldwide. To hear it done justice after years of listening to the synth versions (as anyone who ever popped the game disc into a CD player would have done) was truly phenomenal. It was the perfect way to celebrate 20 years of Lara Croft.

Few things will get me through a dull day quite like a good game soundtrack. It’s the perfect antidote to the crippling banality of office small talk.

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Office Space is class by the way

I thought I’d share a few of my favourite soundtracks here, starting with my current weapon of choice – an FMV horror/puzzle fest known as The 7th Guest.

(Click here for 7th Guest soundtrack via YouTube link. Or just look it up yourself – it’s all good)

 

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Philips CDi: Terrible Zelda games not included

This game came into my life via ‘The Sleepover’ – a different kind of game that you might have played yourself. It was set in a friend’s house and the sole object was to stay up all night (technically it was a local multiplayer strategy played in real time.) You’d need three things: 1 – Jammies (obviously) 2 – An obscenely large quantity of junk food and 3 – Entertainment, preferably videos or any available games console. My friend Kirsty had a Philips CDi – a curious gadget that played games and movies on compact discs. In those days, this was considered ‘witchcraft’.

 

 

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Bottom right: BBFC ’15’ age classification. Yes, we truly stuck it to “The Man”.

When we weren’t sliding down stairs in sleeping bags or attempting to get through a few seconds worth of Dragon’s Lair 2 (borderline impossible, especially with the CDi’s weird remote control device), we’d be pulling an all-nighter on The 7th Guest. And oh, how that game intrigued us! It gave us a pre-rendered 3D haunted house to explore, real humans acting out dramatic scenes (albeit terribly) and – best of all – a ‘15’ certificate on the box, which meant there HAD to be something rude in there if we looked hard enough.

 

 

 

The game turned out to be a bit of a let down in the smut department (I’m sure anyone who played Night Trap experienced similar disappointment) but it still had plenty on offer for a trio of excitable youngsters high on sugary snacks. We got a cool story about a creepy toymaker called Mr Stauf (geddit? It’s an anagram of Faust), the thrill of unlocking and exploring new rooms and numerous bits that were simultaneously unsettling and hilarious. Red Balloon man, we salute you!

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I’ve often wondered what this guy has been up to since. Sod all, according to IMDB

 

Here’s where I finally get around to discussing the soundtrack, which was supposed to be the point of this post anyway. This was the very first game score I heard on CD, which allowed for ‘proper’ songs with lyrics and singers and shit. The fact that the soundtrack came on its own separate disc meant something else too – people wanted to listen to the music, even when they weren’t playing the game. As a kid who’d already put several game soundtracks on tape using a portable cassette recorder, I felt validated. Apparently there were people out there who were as weird as me.

 

 

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Fun fact: I once baked a replica of this cake puzzle. Because that’s how I roll.

The CD starts with a classic gothic horror overture complete with pipe organs, bells and the foreboding tones of a Latin choir (at least I think it’s Latin. I don’t speak Latin so I’m not sure.) The rest is bookended by two full songs, both enjoyable in their own ways. The first is “The Game”, which has a wonderful brooding/grungy feel to it. Would you believe this was made in 1993? The lyrics retell the in-game story while conveying the mood, almost like a precursor to the channel Miracle of Sound (highly recommended). “The Game” uses a melody that’s heard in various forms throughout The 7th Guest, most memorably in a Simon-style mini-game (a.k.a. “That Bloody Piano”). There was no margin for error during this 18 sequence-long puzzle – screw up once and it was straight back to the start with you. Curse you, Mr Stauf!

 

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That Bloody Piano

 

The closing number is “Skeletons In My Closet”, which played over the end credits (or so we believed – try as we might, we never actually got that far). It’s a camp, jazzy little ditty that fits nicely with the 1930s/40s setting in which the action takes place. Actually, that should be “took place” – the actors appear as ghosts reliving moments from the night they died while the players controls a disembodied spirit trying to make sense of the events. Cool, huh? Dig those backing vocals too – they don’t make ‘em like that anymore!

 

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90s FMV acting at its finest. Imagine Tommy Wiseau directed video games.

 

The in-game music does a fantastic job creating an air of suspense, mystery and spooky goings-on. I think it’s a real testament to the game’s score that it managed to keep us going through the puzzle sequences because, trust me, some of those took an age to solve. The CD soundtrack provides a nice sample of each track peppered with a few dramatic music stings and (oh joy!) voice clips. Fans of bad FMV acting are in for a treat. You can practically taste the ham.

 

Maybe it’s the nostalgia bug or maybe it’s my undying love of cheesy horror but The 7th Guest soundtrack is one I’m glad I revisited. It was composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger, whose other credits include Wing Commander, Zombies Ate My Neighbours and… what’s this? A sequel to The 7th Guest called The 11th Hour? I might just have to check that out…

… and a fan-made third game in the works called The 13th Doll? My cup runneth over!

 

Here it is – my most ambitious video project to date. In it, I explore five different (but often overlapping) theories on my new favourite horror film, The Babadook.

 

Any ideas of your own? Please do share – I still haven’t stopped geeking out over this film. I’d also rank Mister Babadook as one of the all time great movie monsters.

To celebrate their 60th anniversary on the air in the UK, ITV gave us The Sound of ITV: The Nation’s Favourite Theme Tune. As I only spotted one children’s programme on the list (Thunderbirds) I decided to celebrate my own wasted youth with a top ten list.

Though many, MANY classics were shown on this channel when I were a nipper (including X Men, TMNT and those awesome Disney Club cartoons) I’ve decided to stick with the programmes made for or by ITV. Also I’m not really considering the shows themselves – just the opening themes, as those were often the best bits. I mean, does anyone remember anything about Spatz apart from the piano tune and the little man tap dancing on the burger? Nope, didn’t think so.

Anyway, here it is – the Top Ten CITV Theme Tunes.

  1. Button Moon

Ah, here’s one that lulled many of us to sleep as babies as we drifted through space on our adventures with Mr Spoon. This sweet, surreal theme was composed by Doctor Who’s Peter Davison and his then wife Sandra Dickinson.

  1. Woof!

This show had a fun premise – a ginger kid that turns into a dog whenever his nose itched or the plot demanded it. This jolly harmonica tune was always the perfect soundtrack for walkies.

Speaking of dogs, there was another show that I desperately wanted to add to this list but, thanks to my own stupid rules, I’ll have to skip. *Sighs* if only there was some tenuous link I could exploit just for the sake of…

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IT COUNTS! I’M COUNTING IT!

  1. Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds

Catchiest. Theme. EVER. Trust me, it will NEVER leave! Merciless earworm aside, this is also notable as one of the only kid’s TV themes I can think of with a booze reference (“They drink their beer and swear they’re faithful to the king.” Yup, I learned from the best!) And no, that trick where you throw an apple and slice it mid-air will NOT work with a plastic toy sword, as the younger me discovered to her bitter disappointment.

  1. The Raggy Dolls

“It’s not much of a life when you’re just a pretty face/Just to be whoever you are is no disgrace.” What a lovely sentiment! And one we don’t hear nearly enough. This theme was written and sung by Neil Innes of Bonzo Dog Band fame, who many will also remember as the leader of Brave Sir Robin’s Minstrels from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

  1. Count Duckula

You know what? I could have made a top ten themes from the old Cosgrove Hall productions alone. Step forward the Del Boy-voiced Count Duckula, everyone’s favourite vegetarian vampire. And yes, he could absolutely kick Edward Cullen’s sparkly ass!

  1. Bangers and Mash

Knees up! Rockney duo Chas and Dave were the brains behind this opening tune, which set the tone for the antics of the troublemaking chimps. PLEASE someone tell me that’s mud they’re flinging!

  1. Trap Door

“Berk! Feed Me!” Combining traditional animation, Claymation and that unforgettable Vincent Price-esque opening, Trap Door was always destined to be a cult classic. Why? Say it with me now… ‘cause there’s somethin’ down there!

  1. Supergran

“Is there anyhin’ she cannae do?” This showed kids something that, seeing as I had two of them myself, I knew to be true – Scottish grannies are some of the toughest buggers you’ll ever meet. And if this wasn’t Scottish enough already, they got the Big Yin himself, Billy Connolly, to sing the theme. Oan yirsel son! *weeps small tear of national pride*

  1. Danger Mouse

The high notes! The fanfare! The explosions that would make Michael Bay shit himself with glee! Danger Mouse had an exhilarating theme that held strong for a whopping ten series. For an 80s British kid’s show, that’s pretty impressive. Fun fact – this programme also inadvertently gave us an earlier entry on this list – yes, Duckula was originally created as a villain for Danger Mouse. A reboot of this series is due to start airing this year and I’m very curious to see how ol’ DM holds up. That’s “Donnie Murdo” if you ever caught the Gaelic dub!

  1. Knightmare

HELL YEAH! One of the greatest themes, nay, greatest THINGS I remember from childhood. Knightmare was an adventure/game show set in a sprawl of blue screen dungeons where the vast majority of children playing would die horribly (see the infamous Hall of Flying Buzzsaws.) I’ll admit that I loved it so much I practised following directions while wearing a bucket on my head and wrote in asking to be a dungeoneer. I was too young, as it turned out, but I did get a letter back from the Dungeon Master himself, Tregard.

This is the original version of the theme. Doesn’t it just get you fired up for adventure with those pounding hooves, awesome 80s animation and epic hero charging theme? Well, it didn’t last. Eventually the classic opening was swapped for a version that sounded more like Knightmare: The Daytime Soap Opera. Fools.

One more thing!

Time for an honourable mention: The Dreamstone.

I didn’t count this one as the opening credits were mostly narrated exposition BUT the end credits featured the goddamn London Philharmonic Orchestra! I couldn’t get a clip of them on their own, but the sequence used for them kicks off here just before the two minute mark. Enjoy!

Want more? Did I miss something? Check out CITV’s Old Skool channel on YouTube. And yes, they have Knightmare!

The Quarian & the Geth

“Does this unit have a soul?”

Tali1Legion1The backstories and development of these two races are intrinsically linked, so it only makes sense to review them together. The Quarian machinist Tali’Zorah nar Rayya joins the Normandy as part of her pilgrimage. Geth are the most frequently encountered enemy in Mass Effect. Together their unfolding story serves as a microcosm for the theme of Organic versus Synthetic lifeforms that runs through the series.

According to Mass Effect lore, the Geth were the invention of the Quarian. Originally built for manual labour, the robotic Geth were given a series of upgrades to enhance their intelligence for complex tasks. As an unexpected result, they became self-aware and began questioning their existence, purpose and the presence (or otherwise) of their souls. Horrified by the implications and suddenly fearing their creations, quarians began shutting down the units – a move that resulted in a full Geth uprising in which the Quarian were defeated. Driven from their homeworld Rannoch and denied amnesty due to their irresponsible actions, the Quarian became a nomadic race forced to live aboard their own ships. This story can be read as a space opera interpretation of the Prometheus myth or a large scale version of its most famous derivative work, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

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What’s interesting about the artistic development process is that the Geth were designed first and Bioware artists then worked backwards to conceptualise the “creator race”. Geth are fully synthetic, constructed from durable metals and artificial muscle tissue. This grants them formidable strength and agility, particularly the “hopper” units. When damaged, they leak a white fluid that gives the impression of bleeding. Similarities were made in the Quarian design to reinforce the connection with the Geth. They share physical attributes with their slender builds, strong hips and bowed back legs. The two races also demonstrate a resourceful nature in their outward appearances. Salvaged materials are used by both, as seen in the variety of textures and patterns in the Quarian environmental suits and by the Geth unit Legion using a fragment of Shepard’s armour to “patch a hole.” Both races, it would appear, share a resourceful nature.

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One possibly symbolic parallel is that Quarian and Geth are both effectively “faceless.” A Geth’s “head” is substituted by a lamp light while the Quarian wear opaque, featureless masks. There are several ways we can read into these design choices. From a gameplay stance, a Geth’s “face” provides dramatic lighting when battling in dark quarters, plus it gives the player a shooting target. From a storytelling point of view, perhaps the Geth were built this way in an attempt to dehumanise (or dequarianise) the workforce and avoid facing the contentious issue of slave labour.

It’s thanks to the quarians’ subsequent actions that they were forced into wearing masks. By the time the events of Mass Effect are in motion, the Quarian have inherited a seriously weakened immune system – a result of generations spent living in isolation aboard ships – and must wear body suits with protective masks that obscure all but the faintest hint of a face. Losing their faces symbolises a loss of status – their fall from the image of gifted and respected inventors to social pariahs. It could also be a sign of their abandoned ethics and lost humanity in the act of creating a sentient race (labelled “True A.I.” in the game’s universe) only to enslave it and then attempt to destroy it.

Tali2Traditional science fiction uses aliens to convey themes of the Other in society and in Mass Effect the Quarian evoke a number of social, racial and religious groups that have been targets of Western prejudice. Since being denied amnesty, the Quarian have become reviled in galactic society and are dismissed as beggars and thieves. In the games, they fall victim to false accusations of theft and abusive slurs such as “suit rat”. Parallels might be drawn with real-life Gypsy and Traveller communities. Additionally the Quarian speak with a distinctly Eastern-European accent, possibly harking back to the Red Scare, and their veils and facial coverings might even be compared to the niqab or burka. It’s not a direct metaphor – a quarian’s mask and suit are worn for medical rather than religious purposes – yet the distrust and discrimination they experience feels rooted in real life.

As for the Geth, they are aware that their species is feared by organic races, many of whom don’t consider synthetics to be a species at all. Even the colourfully diverse crew of the Normandy have trouble adjusting to the presence of a Geth unit on board and the player is actually given the option to sell Legion to Cerberus for research purposes. Needless to say, this is a pretty hardcore Renegade option.

Eventually the conflict between the Geth and Quarian escalates into full blown war, the outcome of which is entirely down to the player. Shepard might take sides with either race, attempt to secure peace between them or decide that neither are to be trusted and simply use them as assets wherever it’s considered useful. I’ll admit… I messed this up horribly on my first playthrough and the consequences plagued me right through to the end. I had no idea a game could cause so much heartbreak and feelings of guilt – in fact, it’s one of the most powerful emotional responses I’ve experienced through any work of fiction.

And no, I haven’t talked about the “Tali’s face” controversy from Mass Effect 3. Let’s just pretend that lazy Photoshop effort never existed, okay?

Thanks for reading! If you’ve enjoyed this series and want more Mass Effect musing (because who doesn’t?) then check out Five Out of Ten magazine, issue 14. Two of my articles are featured; “The Dirty Dozen” where I talk about the squad of Mass Effect 2 and “The Unnatural Evolution of Pokemon”, which was written to tie in with the theme of Nature.

Please support them if you can – they publish some fantastic, thought-provoking gaming articles and they really helped me improve my writing, plus the art design makes it look feckin’ awesome!

The Krogan are a hulking reptilian species; warriors born and bred who revel in their own aggression. They once threatened to conquer the galaxy but were thwarted when a biological weapon crippled their birth-rate. Through the Krogan battlemaster Urdnot Wrex and his clan, Shepard may discover that there is more to this race than first meets the eye.

kroganbatfaceStanding seven feet tall and weighing a tonne in armour, Krogan are by far the largest and strongest species in Shepard’s crew. Ideas came from several members of the animal kingdom, particularly rhinos (hence their charging attack) and ancient reptiles. Faces were inspired by line drawings of bats. Early concept sketches were of primitive beings with long, ape-like arms, later changed to avoid animation problems. Each Krogan’s solid headplate is formed by the fusion of small, supple bones like a newborn’s skull. This plate often comes in handy as their debates are typically resolved with a headbutt to the face.

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Besides brutishness, Krogan biology suggests survival. Thick hides protect their bodies and humps preserve nourishment due to scare food and water supplies, not unlike a desert camel. Flat teeth imply they were originally herbivores, even if they are shown cooking rats on their barren homeworld. The placement of their eyes is indicative of a prey species rather than a predator. A better field of vision would help Krogan spot attackers; practical, given that Tuchanka is home to dangerous fauna including thresher maws. Their short gestation period – unusual for large beings of long lifespan – also indicates heavy predation during evolution. Or in Wrex’s words “You haven’t seen how fast we can pop them out.”

Grunt: Rockin' the Citadel!

Grunt: Rockin’ the Citadel. This is why we love him!

To many, the Krogan are thugs who must be suppressed for the safety of others; understandable given the Krogan Rebellions and the fact that they do enjoy violence. However, this need not be the last word on their race. Wrex is level headed with a hearty sense of humour (the only subject that provokes his wrath is the Genophage virus, which threatens to drive his people to extinction.) Grunt will “act out” in Mass Effect 2 yet he’s tempered when he gains a sense of purpose and belonging. Finally in Mass Effect 3, “Eve” tells of the quiet suffering and suicidal tendencies of the infertile females – a stark contrast to the furious chest-beating of the males. Ultimately, the true nature and fate of the Krogan is decided by the player.

Note: Personally, I love the Krogan! Wrex was my bro in the first game and I promised myself I’d do anything I could to cure the Genophage. As an extra, here’s an artist’s impression of a krogan baby.

Altogether now - D'awww!

Altogether now – D’awww!

It’s my first day back at work after the Easter holidays and my stomach is growling away at me. Either it’s punishing me for overloading it with chocolate or it’s demanding more. (Speaking of chocolate, travellinginmybookcase has set me a chocolatey-book-related challenge that I will get on with very soon!) For now, here’s a sketch of Frank the Rabbit from the film Donnie Darko. Because bunnies!

Frank: "Wake up"

Frank: “Wake up”

This was taken from the poster art rather than the mask itself. As you can see, it’s composed of various faces and iconic images from the film so it was fun to go through and try to spot what each one was. I’ve seen both the theatrical and director’s cut multiple times and I still make a new connection or come up with a new idea every time I watch. Likewise, I was just compelled to draw this… I guess you could say, they made me do it. 

Happy belated Easter everyone!